The city’s plans to reconnect Downtown and the Hill will resume this spring with the construction of a pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle crossing at Orange Street over the Oak Street Connector.
City staff gave that update on Phase 2 of the Downtown Crossing project during Tuesday morning’s Development Commission meeting on the second floor of City Hall.
City Assistant Director of Comprehensive Planning Aïcha Woods and City Plan Senior Project Planner Donna Hall said that construction of an at-grade intersection connecting Orange Street and South Orange Street over the current mess of semi-highways at MLK Boulevard, Rt. 34, and South Frontage Road will begin later this spring.
By the end of the 24-month construction process, they said, the city will have a new pedestrian and bicycle-friendly intersection that connects the downtown business district with the Yale medical campuses and new residential developments in the Hill.
This project is not only “opening up new opportunities for new jobs and infill development,” Acting Economic Development Administrator Michael Piscitelli said at Tuesday’s meeting meeting, “but also reconnecting this incredible divide between Downtown and the Hill neighborhoods.”
Click here to download a copy of Woods and Hall’s presentation on Downtown Crossing Phase 2.
The imminent Phase 2 construction project is the latest development in the city’s years-in-the-making efforts to suture the wounds caused by the demolition of the old Oak Street neighborhood and creation of the Rt. 34 mini-highway to nowhere during the mid-20th Century Urban Renewal era.
Over the past few years, the city has secured over $50 million in federal, state, and local funding for three phases of the Downtown Crossing project. The first, completed in 2016, saw the construction of a pedestrian and road crossing on College Street and the development of the Alexion building at 100 College St.
The third, which is scheduled to be under construction from December 2020 and late 2022, should see the construction of a pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle crossing that connects Temple Street and Congress Avenue.
While the second, the creation of the Orange Street intersection, should begin construction in a few weeks and should be finished by the winter of 2021.
“It’s really trying to slow the traffic down and create reasonable pedestrian access and bicycle access,” Woods said about the Orange Street project.
Some of the highlights of the project include:
• An at-grade intersection connecting Orange Street and South Orange Street across the Rt. 34 corridor, which includes MLK Boulevard, South Frontage Road, and the Air Rights Garage Service Drive.
• The state’s first “protected bicycle intersection,” whereby bike lanes will be protected from the roadway by a curb or landscaping.
• A highly landscaped “transition zone” by the Brewery Street underpass that will include new lighting and trees to signal to cars exiting the highway that they are entering a dense, urban environment. “The trees coming up,” Hall said, “the lights coming up, having an intentionally designed space at this point will start giving you these visual cues not only to slow down, but that you’re coming up on something that is different.”
• A public art light installation by Sheila de Bretteville on the stretch of Union Avenue leading to the train station.
• A new multi-use path through the green space between the new roadway and the old Coliseum site south of George Street.
• A series of bioswales and other stormwater management improvements surrounding the new intersection.
• A second northbound vehicle travel lane on Orange Street on the north side of the new intersection.
And once Phase 3 is completed, Hall, Woods, and Piscitelli said, there will be entirely new development parcels available between Church Street and Temple Street, and between Temple Street and College Street.
The Alexion building is nearly 500,000 square-feet, Piscitelli said, and will be paying nearly $5 million a year in property taxes now that that building is fully on the tax rolls. Once Downtown Crossing is complete, he said, the four newly created parcels between College and Church could allow for four new buildings between 300,000 and 475,000 square-feet each.
“It gives you the sense of the real potential for tax revenue” opened up by this project, he said.
Development Commissioner John Martin praised the city staff for thinking broadly on how to transform the roadway-strewn divide between Downtown and the Hill.
“It’s just a real wall in our city,” he said. “It’s a really confusing and horrible experience,” particularly for pedestrians and cyclists looking to get from one neighborhood to the other.
“It’s really been a very difficult thing to physically make that connection” between Downtown and the Hill, Hall said, “but also mentally, this no man’s land that’s been out there ever since they did the original demolition of the Oak Street neighborhood.
“This is really exciting because it does make that connection between these two economic drivers, the central business district on the one hand and the medical and the research on the other side. I think it’s really exciting because it bridges it in so many different ways, and it creates so many opportunities for the city to provide this transformative site for how we view the city and the way that investment can occur here.”